theonlinecitizen

a community of singaporeans

To all sports fans

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 25, 2008

Lea Yi-Long

This letter is written with regards to Singtel securing the broadcasting rights for the UEFA Champions League for the next three seasons.

Although details are yet to be released, it is quite obvious that football fans will be forced to subscribe to Mio TV, and in turn pay higher costs for watching their favourite football action.

Are we going to take it lying down and accept this endless increase in price? Or should we stand together and make our feelings known? Action speaks louder than words.

Just a year ago, StarHub outbid its rivals to secure the rights to broadcast the English Premier League for three seasons, at a reportedly staggering cost. Soon after, the monthly subscription rates for the sports group increased by a whopping 66.7%, to S$25.

Just five years ago, the sports group had cost just S$8 per month.

This means that, in that short span of time, the cost for enjoying “live” sports action (not only football) has increased by more than three times.

This letter is addressed to all sports fans because the price increase affects all sports fans. The current pricing structure does not segregate the types of sports. An NBA fan has to pay the same as a football fan, even though he may not watch a minute of EPL action, and vice-versa. This is gravely unjust for either party, especially so for NBA fans as the huge increase in subscription rate is brought about by football content costs.

It is an undeniable fact that costs for sports broadcasting rights have sky rocketed across the globe, and it may seem only right that costs for end-consumer subscription go up. But is there really no way out of it? Given that it is a global trend, nobody can say for sure that a mere showing of resistance and discontent will be enough to deter the trend from continuing. However, one can be sure that if nothing is done, the trend will continue!

The liberalisation of the pay-tv market was supposed to encourage competition among the providers. In theory, it should have translated into savings for end-consumers. Well, it hasn’t. On top of that, the competition should have brought about a higher standard in the quality of programmes. In short, it was supposed to be a value for money situation for end-consumers.

To voice our discontent, I hope football fans will refrain from subscribing to Mio TV for the Champions League seasons. In doing so, I hope the “boycott” will garner enough strength to force the pay-tv providers to re-consider their current strategy of outbidding each other for exclusive content, to attract customers.

There is room for collaboration even in a fiercely competitive environment. Let’s look at the Telco market. Some years back, Singtel customers were only able to send SMS to fellow subscribers of the Red. It was likewise for M1 and Starhub customers. But for a brilliant plan that was put in place, we would still be living in the “stone age”, where only people of the “same clan” can communicate with one another. It is a classic example of how collaboration between big companies, even in a fiercely competitive market, can benefit consumers, without compromising the profit-driven motive of big companies.

Fast forward to last year when Starhub won the broadcasting rights for the EPL. Has the quality of our football watching experience gone up? It is highly debatable.

In my personal view, I would have preferred John Dykes and his team of pundits doing the half-time shows. For my case, the increase in pricing was not justified by an increase in viewing pleasure. The current season has been consistently bugged by transmission problems too! And Starhub has taken almost an entire season to come out with the “live information menu bar” feature. Moreover, watching football-related programmes like Football Focus on ESPN channels without the images is a joke in my view. Is this the so-called “better viewing experience”?

It is the time to act now. What we can do might be limited as of now, but it may well force the companies into re-strategising. That is our only chance of seeing the end of these endless price hikes.

I hope the online petition will garner enough signatures, to show that we are not alone in feeling disgusted by this endless “milking” of consumers’ money. Secondly, a direct boycotting of subscribing is not to hurt Singtel; it is to force Singtel and Starhub to re-think their current outbidding strategy and monopolizing the particular content for the length of the contract.

Along the way, I hope that this campaign will be brought to the attention of the regulatory bodies in Media Development Authority. They might want to tweak the regulations a little to ensure a win-win situation for both consumers and service providers, and not a win-lose situation either way.

It remains to be seen if we can achieve our targets. However, if we are to lose out in this battle of wills, we know that we did not go down without a fight.

Please sign the online petition at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/sportshike/

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38 Responses to “To all sports fans”

  1. Why should MDA interfere in the free market? After all, watching football on television is simply a luxury item, an indulgence and not a necessity like medicine or public transport.

    The less regulation from the government, the better.

  2. inspir3d said

    regulation is necessary to protect consumers’ interests and to prevent anti-competitive behaviour. if not, natural monopolies will squeeze you dry.

    how would you like it if your utility companies bandied together and charged you 50% your monthly salary for water & electricity? that would easily be the case without government regulation, and is a simple refutation of your blanket statement “The less regulation from the government, the better.”

  3. Less regulation does not mean no regulation. Utility is a necessity item, not a luxury item.

  4. choo said

    Are we going to take it lying down and accept this endless increase in price?

    yes we are – cos most of the EPL fans are too addicted to it just like drugs. let those who can pay continue to watch and those who can’t… go coffeeshop / pub.

    majulah singapura !!

  5. Peiyu said

    Despite wanting to watch Champions League badly, the want is not as tough as to subscribe to Mio TV. I love my existing Starhub cable channels too much to give them up (good alternatives when badly made MediaCorp productions are on! Some of the outsourced productions shown on MediaCorp are pretty good though), and MioTV just does not entice me.

    Hopefully the kopitiam downstairs would succumb to subscribing MioTV when CL comes along so I can wake up at an unearthly hour of 3.30am to watch matches… If not, well, “alternatives” yo.

  6. Yi-Long said

    To Heng-Cheong Leong:

    Well, in everything there’s always some form of regulation. I actually think that in our media, almost everything is regulated except for the money related issues.. Like I said in the letter, it was thought that the liberisation of the media market would encourage competition which will in turn benefit both consumers and the companies. Clearly, the consumers is losing out, not only by paying more, but by having to endure sub-standard programming, at a higher cost.

    A better example for Inspir3d to quote maybe the petroleum market in Sg. What has the free market brought us? An industry that’s always trigger happy to up the pump price whenever there’s a hike in crude oil prices, but reacts slower than a tortoise when the crude prices fall.

    To Choo:
    Well, football is the “global game” and Singapore’s favourite sports is that.. Anyway, going to coffeeshop /pub is not a solution. If the subscription prices are going to rise, business customers (ie. the pub and coffeeshop owners) will have to fork out substantially more. From what I know they pay hundreds per month, not the S$25 residential customers pay. So, the cuppa that you sip while enjoying football at these alternatives may just cost you more.

  7. I do not believe we should task the government to regulate broadcasting of foreign sports events just so football fans can be entertained at a cheaper rate.

    Who is going to pay for the salary of the civil servants to write the paper on how to regulate? Who is going to pay for the salary of the civil servants to enforce the regulation? Who is going to pay for the salary of the civil servants to review the regulations every 10 years? Who is going to pay for the salary of the judges and lawyers when disputes arise? You?

    Watching foreign clubs playing in foreign leagues on television is a luxury item, and not a basic necessity like electricity, water, or petroleum. It should not be the government’s job to make sure you get to watch football cheaply. If you cannot afford it, or if you feel is not value-for-money, don’t watch.

  8. familyman said

    sorry, but why are we paying the IDA TV licence fees for? If mediacorp 5 can screen olympics, why can’t they do the dame for all these soccer matches?

  9. Annonymous said

    Goodness me, don’t you understand basic supply and demand? Yeah a mass boycott would surely bring prices down- and it will stay that way as long as you lot stay away from watching football.

  10. qala said

    No one is forcing anyone to subscribe. Want to watch? Pay.

  11. Yi-Long said

    I didn’t say that watching football is a necessity. But does that mean that we can just let whatever that is not a necessity continue an unreasonable price hike? I used petrol as an example because, other than those whose livelihood depends on driving (ie. taxis, transportation companies etc.), petrol is not a necessity too.

    Anyway, if paper need to be written again, I think those same people who wrote the paper to liberise the media market can do the job of writing the paper again. 😉

    Content price hikes is not restricted to sports. News, documentaries and other programmes alike has seen the subscription rates go up, albeit at a much slower pace. My campaign is targeted at sports because it is the content with the most obvious and steepest price hike. But, we should not forget that every single content on tv has its prices set northwards.

    Watching tv is definitely not a necessity of livelihood. But for the majority of Singaporeans, isn’t it part of our everyday lives and primary entertainment? Or maybe all Singaporeans should stop having entertainment of any form? Let’s head back to the stone age.

  12. The cost of the TV license fee has remained relatively stable while the number of free-to-air channels have been increasing over the years. What is this “content price hikes” you are talking about?

    Why should the government regulate the price of foreign sports entertainment? You want an luxury item, you pay for it. Don’t go and ask other taxpayers to pay the government to regulate the luxury item so that you can get the luxury item cheaper.

  13. Yi-Long said

    For the first part, “content price hikes” is the increase in costs to acquire the rights to broadcast a show. Like the American Idol and Survivor series. Relatively stable licensing fees doesn’t mean there is no “content price hikes”. Media companies make the bulk of their money from advertising revenues. This is why, when you watch a popular show, the commercial breaks are usually much longer and frequent. A stable license fee (similar to a subscription fee, maybe) does not mean no “content price hike”. License fee can stay relatively stable probably because the free-to-air channels are more regulated, and thus adopt different marketing and operating strategies.

    And for the second part. Well, MDA’s mission statement reads “The MDA has a dual-function role that contributes to developing Singapore into a vibrant global media city as well as a creative economy and a connected society. The first is to promote the growth of the media industry. The second is to manage content to protect core values and safeguard consumers’ interests.” So probably you can tell MDA they should stop wasting our GST money and stop doing one of its core-jobs.

  14. MT said

    Totally agree with the letter. Lets all boycott Mio TV. Just to have Champion’s League action in out homes and we are now required to install 1 more box. Is this ridiculous or what?

    This vicious cycle of companies outbidding each other is never going to end as the higher costs will then be passed down to us, consumers.

    Also, with Starhub getting the rights last year, they charged more and I expected more value being added to the programs. Instead, no football talkshows and other football related programs are shown and they just play repeated matches everyday. Tell me what kind of added value is this??? If ESPN StarSports could cater to this, why can’t Starhub?

  15. To the majority of Singaporean, there’s no “content price hikes”, because the cost of TV license fee has remained relatively stable. There’s no hardship involved to be entertained. That’s what I meant. The same $100 which bought you “Cosby Show” and “The Awakening”, continues to bring you “Friends” and “Holland V”, and continues to bring you “American Idol” and “Just in Singapore”.

    Nowadays, popular shows on free-to-air channels in Singapore do not have longer and more frequent commercial breaks. MDA’s regulation limits the number of minutes of commercials per hour.

    There is no such regulation in the past, which was why The Cosby Show, a popular 22-minute sitcom, used to take up a 40-minute time-slot. So, in fact, if one purely looks at the quantity of television shows, one gets more bang for the buck today compared to yesterday.

    As for the second part, show us where cheap consumer rates for foreign sports entertainment equates to “vibrant global media city” or “protect core values and safeguard consumers’ interests.”

    Show us why the price of foreign sports entertainment is unjustified or unreasonable as compared to the cost of programming acquisition. (You yourself wrote that it is a “undeniable fact that costs for sports broadcasting rights have sky rocketed across the globe, and it may seem only right that costs for end-consumer subscription go up”.)

    The government shouldn’t regulate the price of luxury goods, period. The slippery-slope argument will mean that the government will next have to limit the price of iPhone, Ferrari, Raffles Hotel, and Vaio. Before long, no companies will want to do business in Singapore.

  16. Less talking and more action.

    An organised boycott of MIO TV will have more effect. And I’m talking about a significantly large, publicly visible boycott.

  17. Yi-Long said

    Ok, I think you missed my points. Maybe I left it too ambiguous, thinking most people can understand how the game is played is the media industry. My point is that, our free-to-air channels do not rely on licence fees but instead, advertising revenues. This is because they adopt a different marketing and operating strategies. I do not see why the pay-tv companies cannot do that. The strategies and regulations means that “rising content costs” are not passed down to consumers. By not paying for “rising content costs” now, does not mean there is no “rising content costs” and that you will not bear any increase in costs in future. It will be too late to cry foul should one day, the costs are passed down to the masses. Going back to my letter, I’ve said that the campaign is “to force Singtel and Starhub to re-think their current outbidding strategy and monopolizing the particular content for the length of the contract.” That’s the primary objective of this campaign.

    The underlying concern is that all contents, football or non-football, sports or non-sports, will rise in their costs in future. Sports, is of course taking the lead. That’s why we should use it to spearhead the campaign. I feel that this is the time to stand up, speak up. It is like the frog and the pot of boiling water. The sports fans are in the pot of boiling water now, but other consumers are actually in another pot of lukewarm water. The gas is definitely turned on, in my view. It’s just a matter of time before the water starts getting too hot for comfort.

  18. Yi-Long said

    Thanks for positive responses. The petition is garnering more signatures by the day. Those who feel about the issue, please sign the petition and also help spread the word around.

  19. Look, Yi-Long, all I am saying is that the government should not regulate the business of foreign sports entertainment on television. The key is: “government should not regulate.”

    Of course, SingTel and StarHub can offset the subscription prices by selling commercial time. You can petition SingTel and StarHub to do that.I have no problem with that.

    What I have a problem with is, you suggesting government must regulate the industry by, for example, forcing SingTel and StarHub to sell commercial time to offset subscription prices.

    In summary, my argument is that: government should not regulate, because foreign sports television is a luxury item, not a basic necessity.

    The rising cost of sports television is not a problem for most Singaporeans because: a) most Singaporeans do not watch sports television, and b) we do not see a corresponding increase in TV license fee that will deprive most Singaporeans from getting general entertainment.

    The rising cost of sports television should not be a concern for the government because sports television is not a basic necessity. (Unlike, for example, public transport, school textbooks, and HDB flats, all of which the price is heavily regulated.)

    To counter rising cost of foreign programme acquisition is not to force business models on local and foreign companies. (You cannot force HBO or Disney to switch to advertisement-based model, for example; probably illegal too, under WTO.) To counter the rising cost is to have more local programmes where costs are more manageable, and to encourage competition among producers, both foreign and local.

  20. Yi-Long said

    I think we both hold a vastly different view in this matter and I respect your views.Ok, I get your point that the government shouldn’t intervene and thus incurring unnecessary costs paid by taxpayers.

    However, the market is already regulated by MDA, even when it is a “free market”. There is already a set of rules governing the pay-tv industry and I’m hoping to raise some awareness so that they may consider changing a rule or two from the current list to give both consumers and pay-tv operators a win-win situation. It does not take the setting up of another committee whatsoever to get it going.

    The point is, the MDA will just be running as usual, in their normal daily capacity, should they decide to look into the matter. And that is the way things is. They are regulating all contents given to Singaporeans, both on free-to-air and cable channels, sports or non-sports. My campaign, if so successful to be looked into by the MDA, will not create a task that’s brand new in nature that requires extra manpower or much costs (maybe a bit more paper costs). Perhaps, if you feel that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be used to regulate contents of luxurious nature, the authorities should be made known of this.

  21. Adrian said

    Yah,why should the government intervene? If there is enough demand out there to pay for these channels, then the price should increase. Once the price increases goes up enough to impede demand, then it will come back down again cause cable companies know that they have over-priced their products. Natural law of economics.

  22. Every bit of government intervention counts and costs. Not just only in terms of money, but also in terms of freedom. We, as a society, opted to have laws and regulations for public good, but we must consciously be aware not to have unnecessary intrusion from the government.

  23. jonathan said

    seriously, face it: watching the champions league IS a luxury. how badly are you gonna suffer without it? The government is not obliged to provide you with good entertainment at low prices at all.

    protecting consumers’ interests? how about this: if starhub had a monopoly on the cable tv market and all the good channels, who would suffer? the fact that you have to subscribe to two cable companies to get what you could get previously on just one cable company has probably distracted you from the fact that starhub wouldn’t have dared to raise their sports package’s prices at will, if it had faced serious competition in the first place.

    and let’s just face this simple fact: that most people can’t find a reasonable justification for protesting, other than how the split hurts their pockets. you don’t want to pay for what you want.

    take a look at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cable_companies . We are almost alone in having a cable company with a monopoly on the market – we have been the exception, not the rule. consumers are hardly entitled to get all their favorite entertainment from just one company. the more channels you want, the more companies you sign up with. we’re behaving like a bunch of insulated, backward people.

    lastly, i cannot believe that TOC would help publicise this petition. the decision to do that wasn’t well thought out at all, and probably stems from a blind instinct support anything that seems anti-establishment or anti-corporate powers. i expected better from TOC.

  24. xtrocious said

    I think the crux of the problem actually likes with MDA – the exclusivity of content!

    If there wasn’t one in the first place, then I believe there will be true competition i.e. consumers can then choose which package offered by the operators that suit them the best…

    The choice between operators solely depends on the level of service and value offered, not content!

    But in the case, we are forced to subscribe to more than 1 operator if we want all the programs we want…

    Then again, if we look at the ultimate ownership of these telcos/operators, I am not the least surprised when this situation has been allowed to persist…

  25. jonathan said

    i’m sorry, but that’s exactly like saying that all car dealerships should sell the same range and brands of cars. yep, Kah Motor and Tan Chong Motors will both sell Toyotas from now on and let the consumers base their choice on service quality. or that Burger King and McDonalds should ask KFC to share its secret chicken recipe so that they could all sell the same products. you get my point. the argument against exclusivity is terribly flakey and is another poor attempt at easing the strain on our pockets for a luxury good.

  26. GiinaKiah said

    Starhub is owned by Temasek Holdings.

    Singtel is owned by Temasek Holdings.

    So-called “competition” is a show.

    Do we really have competition?

    I mean, Starhub conveniently didn’t bid for the rights to screen the Champions League.

    Coincidence? Or cartel behaviour.

    Starhub & Singtel both owned by Temasek Holdings.

    You decide.

  27. jonathan said

    and that is better than a monopoly because…?

  28. Yi-Long said

    Ok guys, let’s see. The idea of this petition is not merely to lower prices. If you read through my letter carefully, I do not mean to hurt Singtel or Starhub. The point is, I feel that having a win-win situation, not a win-lose situation in any way is the way forward. Singapore, in a bold bid to become a global media city, cannot afford for its plans to die off so quickly, merely a couple of years after announcing the Media 21 blueprint.

    It may sound that my petition is just trying to save myself and those who feel like me a few bucks per month, but I’m looking at the bigger picture. Well, some of you may not see it. If the free market in Singapore cable tv do not seem that it will work out, then probably some agency has to step in before it gets too late. Just remind yourself of how SPH Mediaworks could never survive, and the free-to-air market is back to a monopoly. THere is no correct answer, but there is a precedent for us to see. Monopoly may or may not be better. But since we are now trying out a free market, we should not let it die so quickly just because the two companies are blindly incurring exorbitant and unnecessary costs on themselves to secure exclusive rights.

    And, I think TOC agreed to carry my letter because it is an issue that concerns many Singaporeans. TOC carry issues that concern lives of Singaporeans, be it pro-gov or anti-gov. As long as the issue is of concern to Singaporeans, I hope that we are able to talk and discuss it on TOC.

  29. SPH Mediaworks didn’t survive, but that doesn’t imply free-to-air market in Singapore cannot support more than one player. Me thinks is that SPH didn’t know how to compete — after all, it has no idea how to do counter-programming, and had launched a price war with Mediacorp when it didn’t have a deep pocket to sustain.

  30. Yi-Long said

    Maybe my English is bad, I didn’t mean Mediaworks “could not” survive (as in the market do not allow for more than one player), they simply did not. Yup.

    Anyway, that’s part of my point. I believe that their pulling out was in part due to the already saturated and small market, and maybe partly due to what you said, a wrong strategy adopted. SPH, though obviously not as rich as the mighty Singtel, did have the means to sustain Mediaworks (while in the red), if it had wanted to. But it doesn’t make sense for both Mediacorp and Mediaworks to continue their battle because both had made losses in the 4 years. That was when the government stepped in. It was a lose-lose situation for the media companies, although I thought consumers had a better deal in having a wider variety to choose from. But that wasn’t the best situation.

    I hope that our pay-tv market will not suffer the same fate. And certainly, I do not want to see that when the government intervene, its to announce that the market is unsuitable for competition and either SCV or Mio have to pull out.

    Riding on our experience in the free-to-air tv market, we can certainly try to make the pay-tv market work. Because at the end of the day, if either company (esp. Singtel) finds it commercially not viable, however deep their pockets are, they’ll pull out before long. And we’d be back to a monopoly. So why not try to have a win-win situation, while we can still possibly make it happen.

  31. I may be recalling incorrectly, but I don’t think the merger between MediaCorp and SPH was a result of government stepping in. The government did had to approve the merger under regulatory rules, but the merger was “struck on a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ basis”. (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/107099/1/.html)

    And I’m not sure I can buy the government’s line that Singapore has too small market for multiple free-to-air channel players. It seems more like a line to continue restricting number of media companies in Singapore.

  32. Yi-Long said

    For both, we really have to ask the government..

    But let’s look at it. If the goverment merely approved the merger, they would not have said that the market is too small for competition in the free-to-air market already, right? Anyway, I think trying to dissect what actually happened then will be too hard for even a rocket scientist. Unless, you are a really accurate bomoh of sorts, or a minister.

  33. After all the hype created by the government on the so-called media liberalisation exercise, of course the government will have to explain the free market failure. (Same thing happened in the public transport market, though this played out far longer.)

  34. Yi-Long said

    Yes, probably. Does that mean that my suggestion of a probable government intervention, only if necessary, is not overboard?

  35. Highly unlikely there will be a government intervention, in my opinion, because of the following factors:

    1. The Singapore government is pro-business, i.e. it will most likely let market forces decide on winners and losers.

    2. The Singapore government has just recently ruled that content exclusivity is okay and not anti-competitive.

    3. The public transport industry did not see the government intervening in the businesses of the two major companies, even though the government admitted failure in injecting competition into the industry. The rumors of SBSTransit and SMRT Corp. merging did not pan out.

  36. Yi-Long said

    True that the government might be reluctant to intervene. The least that I can do is at least make my point to MDA, whether they take it, is another matter and entirely out of any citizen’s control.

    I think the public transport companies, if they were in other industries, they’d have merged. I think the government is like what you said “pro-business” and did not want them to merge, although I would believe that SBS is making losses in its NEL business and SMRT is losing money in the bus business. If not losing, at least what they call “commercially not viable”. This is probably to keep the market open for the future development of public transport, where they’ve said more bus companies can run public transport routes.

    That said, I’d think that the every industry is unique. What works for transport might not work for health or media and vice-versa.

  37. Government matters is not out of any citizen’s control. You have every right to influence and change government policies than any other Singaporean. (Having said that, of course I will have to say I don’t agree with your argument that the government should intervene in the foreign sports entertainment market.)

  38. Yi-Long said

    haha. I’m the more “realistic” kind, in my very own opinion. I really don’t think we can influence them. The only time we can influence them happens only once in 5 years. =x

    It’s ok. we have different views. Glad to have exchanged valuable comments with you. See you in other topics and hope we might share some common views. =)

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